At 6:00 PM on June 29, 2021, I step aside as your pastor, a journey that began June 26, 2002 at 6:00 PM, a total of 19 years and 3 days. It is a delight to know Fr. Rob Bourcy will be the third pastor of The Church of the Transfiguration. Rob is a prayerful, competent and very qualified priest who will provide excellent spiritual leadership for this wonderful parish community.
When I arrived here in 2002, I was almost 54 years old, had dark hair and wore glasses. I felt blessed that Bishop Matthew Clark had appointed me pastor of this community of faith. A faith family filled with life, a commitment to social justice and a longing for lifelong faith formation. Some questioned if anyone could replace our founding pastor, Fr. Gerald Appelby. I did not come thinking I could replace Jerry; rather I was here to build on what he and the community had begun in 1983. I believe Jerry would be proud of his “baby” as he referred to it as.
Along the way, there have been pains, joys, misunderstandings, mutual support and much more, all of which contributes to us being a family of faith. I could not possibly mention all the experiences of the last 19 years, but I want to mention a few that made me laugh, smile, cry and cause me sadness. My memories are in no particular order, just as they came to mind as I reflected on life with you.
The sadness that pervades my memory is the number of young people whose funerals we celebrated, by young, from newborn to mid-twenties. I cannot place an exact number, maybe 15 or so, but all of them were emotionally draining for everyone involved. Most all of them were sudden and unexpected. Yes, they were sad occasions, but they allowed this community of faith to truly show how loving they can be through music and “just being present” to the survivors.
I remember many laughable moments, but one will always stay with me as I think about our younger children. This happened one of the first times I called the children up for a blessing before they left for Children’s Liturgy of the Word. I asked the kids “what’s new?” and one young man (then 6, now 25) immediately started to describe, in vivid detail, how a toilet works. I could not stop him, so along with the congregation I started to laugh as he continued on, which seemed like an eternity. So much for asking opened ended questions.
Probably the most painful memory, which has been happening for all 19 years, is the gradual decline in Mass attendance, a plague shared by the universal Church. I arrived here a few months after the sex abuse scandal came to light, which continues to be a cause for many to question their commitment to organized religion. There are many reasons for the decline in Mass attendance; I only hope we all come to a deeper realization that we need each other if our relationship with Jesus is to deepen.
Part of human frailty is the misunderstandings we have because we only hear half of what is being said or we just do not want to hear what is being said. Yes, I realize my approach to life and ministry is left of center, some even call me a liberal. I can live with this label, but I want to assure you nothing that I ever said was out of malice or ill intent. I try hard to stay true to the Gospel, the Social Teachings of our Church and I try to respect other people’s positions. I can only pray that we all realize the Church has long arms and we should embrace each other as Jesus did in His ministry.
This parish community has been a wonderful experience of mutual support, something I experienced first-hand many times, particularly in 2016. As many of you know, I lost 2 brothers, 2 nephews, 3 other relatives and several close friends over a short period. Finally, in the spring of 2016, I had run out of spiritual energy and my emotional tank was nearly empty. I was either going to die on the vine or had step aside to refill myself. With the support of many of you, I made the decision to step aside for a month, receive appropriate therapy and some much-needed rest. I spent the month of July at the Mercy Center in Colorado Springs and came home with a new perspective. I will remain eternally grateful to this parish community for your support and prayers during that difficult time. I experienced this mutual support and I know many others have as well, thank you.
When I arrived, one of the challenges was to develop a lifelong faith formation program, placing special attention on formation for adults on both the spiritual and theological level. I can proudly say we accomplished this goal and have a program, which is a real gem in the area of lifelong faith programs, especially our 19th Annotation Retreat program.
The list of achievements that we have shared is endless and I am so very proud to have been part of them. The list includes, but not limited to our Global Solidarity Ministry, our Kentucky Mission, the Community Garden, the Christmas Basket program, the Clothing Drive, the Care of God’s Creation Ministry, Advent and Lenten Evening Prayer, the Perpetual Charity Grants, our Youth Ministry and so many more. This list does not include the day-to-day ministry that we all do every day.
As I look to the future, we have many challenges. Among these.
On the local level, sharing a pastor will take time to adjust to, let patience prevail.
Our Church has to address the role of laity, especially woman, empowering them to take more leadership roles, especially in area of liturgy and preaching.
Our Church needs to continue to work on becoming more transparent in all areas of church life, from finances to the sex abuse scandal.
We need to expand our openness to all people or to quote Pope Francis “Who am I to Judge?”
My final thought and most importantly, is relative to how we celebrate Eucharist together as a family. It has been my privilege to pray with you as presider on so many occasions. I believe we “celebrate with a passion for excellence”. Our ability to celebrate and be nourished by the Eucharist is what gives us the spiritual energy to do all the ministries I have already mentioned. The Eucharist is central to our faith, and its centrality is obvious in the faith community I so dearly love.
With deep love, I sign off as your pastor, I will not be far away as your friend.
Let us continue to pray for peace in our world!
In peace and courage,